The other day I was talking with Rick Pauly of Pauly Girl Fastpitch about the challenges of developing young fastpitch pitchers – especially those in the the 8-10 year old range.
Rick said it’s something that has been on his mind for a while, but really came home after completing another of his successful pitching clinics, this time in Fairmont, Minnesota.
The Beginner session included several very young pitchers who worked very hard at the drills and techniques being taught. But clearly they were going to take a while before they were ready to go out and dominate.
The problem is most of them, even the rec league players, often don’t have “a while” before they have to be game ready. It can easily take several months to a year or more for young players to throw strikes on a regular basis.
Most have limited proprioception (body awareness), which means that they can’t feel where various body parts are in space. They may be trying to mimic the movements they’ve been taught or the instructions they’re receiving, but can’t quite feel whether they are successful or not in that moment.
Don’t even get me started on attention span for most of them.
If they continue to work at it they will eventually get it and no doubt become very good at their craft. They’ll be the pitchers who are mowing down the competition left and right, whether it’s racking up tons of Ks or regularly getting out of innings after throwing only 10 or 12 pitches.
The problem is that future competence is not what their youth teams need right now. They need pitchers who can get the ball over the plate.
So what happens? The most valuable pitchers on those young teams are the ones who can throw strikes, no matter how they throw them.
As a result, those girls tend to get the bulk of the innings while those who are taking lessons and practicing all the time get very little circle time. Which means some who might be quite good one day get discouraged and quit pitching while parents who are taking time out of their schedules and paying for lessons begin to wonder whether that investment is worth it.
Look, I get it. While pitching to a large extent may be an individual effort, it’s still performed in the context of a team sport. It’s no fun for everyone if pitchers on both sides are throwing walkfests, and the other eight players on the field (not to mention the team that’s batting) don’t learn much if none of the hitters have an opportunity to hit the ball.
You want there to be some sort of activity on the field that resembles actual softball.
But at the same time, the future of the game isn’t with the lobbers. It’s with those few who are trying to learn how to pitch the right way.
There has to be some sort of solution. I’m sure some of you are thinking “We let the pitchers pitch until they load the bases, then a coach steps in after three balls to pitch.”
That’s ok in theory, but the reality is the coach who’s pitching isn’t helping the hitters much at all. They’re probably not throwing with a realistic motion, and since most want to win the game (because nothing is more important in the world than a $30 plastic trophy) they’re more throwing where the hitter is swinging than teaching hitters to take the bat to wherever the ball is.
It just seems there has to be a better way. I don’t know what it is, but maybe we can all put on our collective thinking caps and figure out how we can enable young pitchers to develop while still making the game fun for everyone else.
One idea is to put restrictions on when pitchers can be pulled. Give them a chance to find their way in a game rather than getting yanked after two or three walks.
Perhaps the pitcher is required to pitch to the full lineup, or half of it until she can be taken out. That might remove some of the pressure she may feel and give her a chance to find her groove, even if momentarily.
Or perhaps we formally loosen up the strike zone to the tops of the shoulders to the tops of the ankles. (I don’t think widening it will help because, well, short bats and short arms.) A bigger zone will also give hitters encouragement to swing more rather than just waiting for the walk, or for the coach to come in and pitch targeted meatballs.
Another idea is to cut the number of outs a team is given at the plate if their opponents are using pitchers who are seeing a recognized pitching coach. In other words, if I am pitching a girl who is taking lessons but struggling, we only have to get two outs to flip the inning. That one might be a little tough to enforce but if the goal is to develop pitchers for the long term hopefully it won’t be abused.
Those are just a few thoughts on our part. Not saying they’re the right way, or the best way, but they might provide a solution.
How about you? Especially those of you who are closer to that age level.
What ideas do you have to encourage young pitchers to keep learning to pitch the right way while not penalizing everyone else on the field? I know we have smart readers here, so leave your comments below and let’s start developing that next generation of pitchers to realize their full potential.
I know my last two posts have been incredibly long so going to try to keep this one short and sweet today.
One of the biggest challenges pitchers who are early in their journey, or pitchers who were taught to turn the ball toward second at the top of the circle, have is learning to get and maintain a bend in the arm coming down the back side of the circle. Getting that bent elbow is essential for enabling the body, and especially the arm, to decelerate a piece at a time instead of all at once to generate maximum arm whip (and thus maximum speed).
Usually what happens is the pitcher is very hand/ball-centric through the circle. That makes sense on the surface because what are they going to do? They’re going to throw the ball with their hand.
Yet taking that approach means that when the pitcher comes over the top of her head the momentum she has generated on the front side will naturally carry the hand backward. When that happens not only does the arm straighten out but the ball is actually moving in the opposite direction of the body.
In other words, as the body is driving forward, hopefully at great velocity, all the energy in the lower arm and hand is being directed backward, as if the pitcher is trying to throw to second base. As a result, a lot of the energy that was generated early will be lost, and more of it will be wasted trying to get the ball to start coming forward again. Not exactly the recipe for maximizing speed.
To avoid this issue the arm must start bending before it goes over the top, enabling the elbow to lead through 12:00 and then down the back side of the circle. This can be easier said than done, however, because it’s often difficult for pitchers to feel exactly what IS happening with their arms at that point.
So to address that issue I developed this little drill.
The advantage of this drill is that it is very targeted and tactile. I always say “if you can feel it, you can fix it.”
By having her try to touch the wall with her elbow instead of her hand, the elbow naturally has to bend. She will know instantly if she got arm/elbow bend at this critical moment because the point of her elbow will contact the wall. It the back of her hand touches the wall, the arm is too straight.
If, on the other hand, the ball touches the wall, the arm is too straight AND she turned the ball backward as she came over the top.
I recommend doing this drill 50-100 times a day every day until the arm starts getting into this position naturally. The nice thing is you don’t need a facility or a warm, sunny day to do it. Any convenient vertical surface and an arm’s length of space will suffice.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get arm bend/lag in order to whip, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it works for you.
I have talked in the past about the dangers of the “it’s a natural motion” myth and how it can lead to overuse injuries. A quick search on the term will turn up article after article from orthopedic surgeons who have to deal with the aftermath of overzealous coaches who love to win and enthusiastic parents who just love watching their daughters do what they love.
How common are overuse injuries? While this study of 181 NCAA collegiate pitchers across all divisions is admittedly pretty old, it shows that 70% of the reported injuries were due to overuse. With the increase in the number of games that are now being played at the youth levels of travel ball, starting at 10U or even earlier, plus the even greater emphasis on winning, it’s unlikely this situation has gotten better.
But all of that is pretty abstract. That’s why I wanted to share this Tik Tok video from my friend and fellow pitching coach Gina Furrey, who talks about the overuse injuries she suffered as a pitcher. It is actually the first in a series, so be sure to watch all of them.
Gina currently gives pitching lessons in the Nashville, Tennessee area under the business name Furrey Fastpitch. If you’re in that area and looking for a great coach who will teach you proper mechanics be sure to contact her. You can also find Furrey Fastpitch on Facebook and on Instagram at @furreyfastpitch.
Before that, though, she was a player who played travel ball at the highest levels before going on to pitch at St. Mary-of-the-Woods college. In her first video she describes how she can probably count on one hand the number of games she didn’t pitch for her various teams throughout her career. That’s a LOT of pitching.
She then goes on to tell how her collegiate career was cut short by an injury attributed to overuse – the cumulative effect of thousands of hours practicing and pitching in games, often with very little rest. I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s Gina’s story to tell.
The biggest reason I think every coach and every parent of a pitcher should watch Gina’s videos, however, is to see her demonstrate her range of motion today. When you see what she can do with her non-pitching arm versus her pitching arm it’s pretty scary.
Not to mention the pain she deals with every day. In my opinion, all the plastic trophies and gaudy rings and plaques and championship t-shirts in the world are not worth trading for an ability to move your arm and shoulder in a normal way.
One caveat I’d like to add is that this caution isn’t only limited to pitchers with poor mechanics. Yes, having very clean pitching mechanics can help prevent injury overall, but over use is over use. Repetitive motions, especially high-energy motions that depend on sudden accelerations and decelerations, can take a huge toll on muscles, ligaments, tendons and other body parts.
Do yourself a favor. Please, please, please, watch Gina’s videos and hear her story. It could save you or someone you love a lifetime of pain and limitations that can easily be avoided.
I have talked for years about how the pitching arm on a fastpitch pitcher should be loose at it goes through the circle. But lately, for whatever reason, I have had a lot of success with one very simple instruction: your arm should feel like it’s a piece of rope.
I usually then tell the pitcher to imagine holding onto a piece of rope and twirling it around with their hand. Now picture their hand is their shoulder and the rope is their arm.
So far it has worked like magic on every pitcher I’ve said this to. Before that instruction you could see that the pitcher was trying to throw hard – and tensing up as a result.
Afterwards, you could see the arm go loose – like a piece of rope – and the ball fly out of her hand. It’s very visible when you’re doing an online lesson, by the way!
Several parents have commented that they could see the difference in the arm immediately. But my favorite comment was from Beth, the mom of a pitcher named Katie.
She was catching during an online lesson and heard me say something but couldn’t make out what it was. Then Katie threw the next pitch and it stung Beth’s hand. At which point Beth said, “I don’t know what you just told Katie but it sure worked.”
I have tried lots of different ways to explain this concept in the past. I’ve said the standard “stay loose,” “make it like a piece of cooked spaghetti instead of uncooked spaghetti like it is now,” and “it should feel like Harry Potter’s arm after Professor Lockhart tries to fix it.” Those phrases would work sometimes and not others.
I’ve also tried different physical approaches, such as having the pitcher swing her arm around in circles multiple times or pitching without a ball or with a light ball. There would be some progress, but it would often be lost once we went back to regular pitching.
But “your arm should be like a piece of rope” seems to work pretty consistently and pretty well.
So if you have a pitcher who is having trouble letting her arm be loose give that a try. Maybe even have a piece of rope handy to try if you and the pitcher are in the same place.
It just might be the key to unlocking both speed and accuracy. And if you do try it, let me know how it works in the comments below!
And as they say on YouTube, if you found this post helpful be sure to leave a like, share it with others and use the box in the upper left to subscribe so every time there’s a new post you’re notified instantly.
Thanks, hang in there, and keep washing your hands!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
As anyone who has gone through the process knows, selecting a pitching coach is a bit like entering the Wild West. There are all these conflicting ideas out there, covered in articles, social media posts, YouTube videos and the like.
Some are good, some are great, and some, quite frankly, are downright dangerous to the pitcher’s health. But how does a parent who wants to do right by his/her daughter, or a coach who wants to give his team’s pitchers their best chance of succeeding, sift through all the muck to find the diamonds in teaching?
A new online education program called High Performance Pitching was introduced over the holidays to address this glaring need. It offers detailed instruction from Rick Pauly of Paulygirl Fastpitch, along with demonstrations of certain drills by his daughter and 8-time NPF All-Pro Sarah Pauly, that explains the mechanics used by every elite pitcher in the game today and how to achieve them, step-by-step.
High Performance Pitching is structured to serve several needs. For those who know little or nothing but want to learn the best way to pitch a softball in fastpitch, there is the Beginner level program. It offers three courses (one free, plus two others for $29.95 each) that cover the basic mechanics and key checkpoints to look for.
All courses are video-based so you can see each piece in action. It’s ideal for the parent whose daughter thinks she may want to pitch, a team coach who wants to help his/her pitchers get started, or anyone who is interested in finding a pitching coach and wants to know what to look for in what the coach teaches.
There is also an Intermediate program that gets far more in-depth into the mechanics of pitching. It consists of 12 courses, each roughly an hour long, that break down various aspects of basic mechanics and offer drills. It is designed both for pitching coaches who are interested in learning the mechanics of high-level pitching as well as anyone who is looking for help in a specific area.
To participate in the certification program you must first complete a background check and pass an online course about preventing sexual abuse. You must then sign and return the Standards of Instruction Affirmation and Code of Ethics for Coaches documents.
One of the best parts is there are also videos that show Rick Pauly working on these principles with different students. You get to be the proverbial fly on the wall as Rick works with a pitcher. That means you can see the individual repetition failures as well as the successes and how Rick approaches corrections.
In fact, for many pitching coaches these “live” sessions may be the best part as it enables you to see how a very successful pitching coach works. All too often we are stuck in our bubbles, with just our own approach to go by. These videos provide a unique and valuable perspective.
At the end of each course there is also a quiz to test your knowledge. If you are going for High Performance Pitching certification you must take and pass these tests. If you are not, or you are just cherry-picking certain videos, the quiz is optional.
You must also complete a personal interview with Rick or Sarah, either in-person or online, before you can be certified.
Finally, there is the Elite program which focuses more on advanced movement pitches, increasing speed, changing speeds, improving location of pitching and other topics. You must first take and pass the Intermediate certification program as a prerequisite to taking the Elite certification program.
(Full disclosure: I have completed both and am now Elite-level certified.)
The Elite program includes 10 courses, again each of them running roughly an hour. To achieve certification you must again take all the courses and pass all the quizzes. I believe you also have the ability to cherry-pick certain courses if you don’t want to follow the entire program.
In all, to become Elite level certified you will complete 22 courses, 150 lessons and 22 quizzes. It is all self-paced so you can do it when you have time.
For the Intermediate and Elite levels there is a $200 registration fee. You must then pay $29.95 for each of the individual courses. It is definitely an investment of money as well as time.
But is it worth that level of investment? Absolutely. I’ve been teaching pitchers for 20 years using the same approach yet I learned some nuances and concepts that will affect the way I teach going forward.
For someone who was brought up in the “hello elbow, paint your way through the release zone, slam the door” school (including former pitchers) it will be even more valuable because you will learn a way of teaching that produces better results for your students while keeping their shoulders, arms, knees and other body parts safer.
The goal of High Performance Pitching is to revolutionize the way fastpitch pitching is taught. In speaking with Rick, his main concern is all the harm that is being done to pitchers through poor instruction.
He wants to inform and educate parents and coaches, and offer an accessible, definitive resource that makes it easier to develop high quality, healthy fastpitch pitchers.
If you are involved in pitching in any way, at any level, it’s worth checking out.
And if you are a parent seeking a certified coach who follows the High Performance Pitching principles, be sure to check out the Certified Coach Locator. It lets you know who in your area you can turn to for high-level instruction.
I can’t believe we’re still having this discussion in 2018 (as I write this, for those of you finding it in the future as you ride along in your self-driving, flying cars) but it’s amazing to me how many players, parents, team coaches, and yes, even pitching coaches, don’t understand what the arm throwing arm should be doing on the back side of the circle. That’s the part where the ball goes from directly overhead to down and through release.
I see it when I’m walking through a facility or past a field where someone is giving a pitching lesson. I hear it from parents of my students telling me horror stories about their daughter’s first practice with the new team coach. I get emails from around the country about it.
The story is pretty much the same. Whoever is offering the “instruction” says the following: “At the top of the circle, point the ball toward second base, with your arm stretched high. Then push the ball face down through the back side of the circle, until you get to the bottom. Then snap your wrist and finish high, with your elbow pointed at the catcher.” That last part is often referred to as a “hello elbow.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. I could tell you all the technical reasons why it’s not a good idea – how it hurts speed and accuracy, how it works against the way our bodies are designed, and so forth. But probably the best reason not to do it is this: NO HIGH-PERFORMING PITCHER DOES THAT. Not even the ones who tell you to do it.
Why? Because it hurts speed and accuracy, works against the way our bodies are designed, etc. And ultimately limits your ability to do your very best.
No need to debate the point, however. Let’s just take a look at what a few very high-level, successful pitchers do when they pitch. Run the videos, then pause them at the top and see which way the ball is facing. Then take a look at what they do through the rest of the circle – bent elbow v. straight arm, whipping the ball through the zone from back to front, long, loose, natural release instead of a forced arm raise. HINT: Once the video is paused, you can step through it by pressing the “,” key to move backwards and the “.” to go forwards.
I could point to more, but you get the point. Of course, if you want to see more, go to YouTube, search for a top pitcher and watch the video. You’ll find they do the same thing (more or less, depending on the pitch).
Now, I realize I’m running the risk of the Backfire Effect. Parents who are investing money in their kids being taught those poor mechanics, or pitching coaches who are making money teaching them, may decide to double down on their beliefs. No one likes to admit they’re wrong.
But the proof is in the pudding. Or in this case in the videos.
If you’re a parent taking your daughter to pitching lessons, and you hear her being told to turn the ball toward second and push it face-down through the back of the circle, my advice to you is to politely stop the lesson, feign a family emergency, and run (not walk) away. Then find a pitching coach who teaches what you see in the videos above.
If you’re a pitching coach teaching that stuff, it’s time to refresh your knowledge so you can be sure you’re helping your students become the best they can be. Presumably, that’s what you’re in it for, so use the tools we have available today to find out what makes the best the best, and teach to that standard. It’s not easy changing what you’re doing – I’ve had to do it before – but it’s worth the effort.